What is cauliflower ear?
When we talk about the term “cauliflower ear”, it refers to a kind of deformity of the ear. It can be due to various causes such as an injury or blunt trauma to the ear during a wrestling or boxing match. If this injury is not treated in a timely manner, then it can lead to a blockage, which would, in turn, prevent the flow of blood and damage the tissues. The injury ultimately results into a lumpy or bumpy appearance on the part of the ear that looks quite similar to a cauliflower. If treatment is carried out earlier, then it can help prevent a permanently deformed ear from developing.
Cauliflower ear is also considered as an acquired deformity of the outer layer of the ear. When the cartilage of the ear becomes injured due to inflammation or trauma, the supply of blood from the skin becomes disrupted, thereby leading to the formation of a large pocket of blood, which is known as a hematoma. As the injury gradually heals, it tends to shrivel itself up and fold onto itself, thereby appearing quite pale and present a cauliflower-like appearance.
Most of the time, boxers, martial artists, and wrestlers are more susceptible to developing a cauliflower ear. In certain cases, it is also known as the "boxer’s ears" or "wrestler’s ears".
There are certain parts of the human body, which are vulnerable to injury such as the ears. When the ear is struck, it causes the blood to clot in that area and tends to develop under the skin. There are also instances where the skin is sheared from the cartilage. The disruption caused in between the skin and the cartilage leads to the formation of a cauliflower ear.
The cartilage present in the ear has no other form of blood supply apart from the one being supplied to it by the overlying skin. When the skin is pulled off from the cartilage or if it becomes separated from the cartilage by the blood, there is deprivation of important nutrients to the cartilage. If timely action is not taken, then it can lead to the death of the cartilage, thereby increasing the risk of infection to that region of the ear.
If the cartilage is left without any treatment, then it would lead to the contraction of the cartilage in itself and lead to the formation of a shriveled outer portion of the ear. This deformity is also called as the "cauliflower ear deformity". Once the cartilage dies and there is an occurrence of scarring or fibrosis, then the deformity that occurs is mostly irreversible or permanent. The ear would start to appear as pale due to the loss of proper blood supply to that region. In certain cases, with the help of cosmetic procedures, one can improve the appearance of the outer ear.
One of the common causes of cauliflower ear is a direct hit or blow to the ear. It can also be due to constant or repeated hits to the ear that can lead to hematomas. It would also mean that there are small collections of blood that tend to clot, thereby leading to a blockage of essential nutrients as well as blood. This deformity is also known to occur when there is pulled skin away from the cartilage, which is a semi-rigid tissue that provides proper shape to the ear.
Most of the time, a cauliflower ear develops due to sports-related injuries. However, this is not always the case. Any kind of trauma caused to the ear can lead to a cauliflower ear. An earlobe infection can also lead to the formation of a cauliflower ear.
Another cause of cartilage damage could be due to the piercing of the upper region of the ear. The piercing can lead to an infection of the cartilage, which is medically termed as auricular perichondritis. This type of ear infection ultimately results in a cauliflower ear. One of the other rare causes of a cauliflower ear is cartilage inflammation in relapsing polychondritis.
The main goal of treatment is to prevent permanent damage to the cartilage by draining the blood from the hematoma. Other treatment measures include getting the infection treated in a timely manner and reducing inflammation to properly establish a connection between the skin and its underlying cartilage. The doctors can also prescribe antibiotics to prevent further infections or complications.
The doctor can also refer the patient to an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist, who is also known as an otolaryngologist. Patients can also be referred to a plastic surgeon to get the deformity treated as well as assure the proper healing process. The repair work of a cauliflower ear would involve getting the accumulated blood drained out with the help of an ear incision and also applying a compressive dressing to sandwich both the sides of the skin against the cartilage.
The initial treatment for any kind of injury or blow to the ear is to apply ice to the injury as quickly as possible. The application of ice can be done with an interval of 15 minutes. Its application would lead to a reduction in swelling, and at the same time, avoid the formation of a cauliflower ear. One should also make sure to seek medical help right away and not delay treatment when it comes to ear injuries.
Once the excess blood has been drained out, the doctor would prescribe certain antibiotics to prevent any kind of ear infection. At the same time, the doctor would also place a compression dressing on the ear to ensure that it heals in a proper manner and in the proper shape itself.
During the course of treatment and healing, the individual should not carry out any kind of activities that can lead to an additional trauma to the ear until the ear becomes completely healed. You can also check with the doctor on when you can resume carrying out normal activities. Follow your doctor's advice to achieve a better recovery or outcome.
However, one should not forget that a cauliflower ear can reoccur again. Hence, it becomes very important to monitor the ear for any kind of swelling even after the doctor has carried out the draining procedure.
In case if the swelling has not been treated in a timely manner or in case if the treatment turned out to be unsuccessful, then the cartilage would become thickened and scarred taking the shape of a cauliflower.
Below are certain home remedies that would be of great help in getting the injury treated before it turns out to be permanent:
- Garlic Cloves: You can heat a few garlic cloves until they become soft. Allow them to cool. Smash one of the cloves and apply it over the affected earlobe. With the help of a napkin, hold the clove and keep pressing it for around 10 to 15 minutes. Extract the juice from the other cloves of garlic and rub it onto the earlobe twice a day. Garlic is known to contain anti-inflammatory properties, which are quite useful in relieving inflammation as well as tenderness of the ear.
- Apply Pressure: Applying pressure immediately after an injury or trauma to the ear can help minimize the internal bleeding. It can also reduce swelling in the tissues. You can directly place a clean dry cloth on the affected ear and try to apply pressure on the affected region. You can also wrap a bandage around your head to keep the pressure in your ear. Make sure to keep the upper part of your outer ear pressed for around 10 to 20 minutes.
- Arnica Oil Treatment: You can apply the oil of arnica on the affected region and then wrap it up tightly with the help of a bandage. Make sure to press the injured ear to the side of the head while wrapping the bandage. You can do this process around three times a day for one week. Arnica oil is known to be helpful when it comes to healing as well as treating any form of injuries, especially injuries related to sports such as tears, sprains, or any kind of fractures. It is also known to be helpful in treating bruises.
Once a cauliflower ear has developed, it tends to become permanent. However, in certain cases, it can be reversed with the help of a cosmetic ear surgery called otoplasty. During surgery, the doctor would make a cut just behind the ear to expose the cartilage. The doctor would then carry out two steps: remove some portion of the cartilage or change the shape of the ear with the help of stitches.
In this type of surgery, the patient would be given general anesthesia. However, in certain cases, some can also use local anesthesia. After surgery, patients should be able to resume their physical activities within a period of six weeks. In certain cases, the doctor can ask the patient to wait a little bit longer to promote complete healing.
When it comes to the prevention of a cauliflower ear, the best preventive measure is to avoid any kind of injury to the ear. If you are one of those individuals who often participate in sports such as boxing and wrestling, then it is advisable to wear a helmet or headgear to protect oneself from any kind of injury during sports activities.
For children who are into sports, protection should be of utmost importance. They should wear a protective helmet or headgear, which would also include ear guards to ensure that they are always protected while they participate in any kind of contact sports.
While participating in any kind of sports activity, it is advisable to also speak with the doctor about the use of blood thinners since they are known to increase the risk of causing a cauliflower ear.